Law Changes to Impact On Rugby Across All Borders

As is common in the post-World Cup period, World Rugby has made a number of law amendments that will impact on Rugby across all borders of the game.

A number of minor law amendments approved and announced in September will come into effect in the southern hemisphere on 1 January and 1 July in the northern hemisphere, while 2016 will also see a program of closed law trials begin in earnest as World Rugby’s quadrennial law review process continues in 2016. With the Super Rugby season due to kick-off Friday the 26th of February, Scott MacLean examines the law amendments and their impact..

The majority of the changes are technical ones, and certainly not as expansive as those being used in South Africa at Varsity Cup level, or proposed changes for New Zealand’s rebranded Mitre 10 Cup later this year, but these will still have an impact on the game across all rugby playing nations.

Maul– The only dynamic phase of the game affected, the ball must now be passed back through the maul from player to player. The ball-carrier is no longer permitted to slip backwards, meaning that the technique that David Pocock and the Brumbies used so effectively last season, has been outlawed.

Expect referees to pay extra attention in this area, particularly in the early weeks of new competitions, to ensure that not only are players ‘joining’ mauls correctly, but the ball is transitioning legally as well. While difficult to police, in Super Rugby the referee’s clinic held pre-season will have educated them on tools to use, teams to focus on and while the interpretation might be criticized across different regions, the players will have been drilled on the best practice (and how to push the envelope as far as possible)

Forward pass – The definition has been changed, and now only considers if the arms of the player passing the ball move towards the opposing teams dead ball line. This brings the definition into line with how its been operated recently, as physics allow a ball to be passed backwards yet appear to travel forward.

It is unlikely to change what happens on the field as players look to pass the ball across the field, but will take some getting used to for fans. Especially on the always contentious TMO referrals where big-screen replays and crowd reaction played their part at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Unfair play– Like other sports, the blight of ‘simulation’ has started to creep into professional Rugby. To combat this a new clause has been created that looks at the actions of players.

Examples are diving and waving of arms at the referee that an offence might have been committed by the opposition. A common occurrence in Football, open disregard for decisions [or a lack of decision] can lead to players pushing the ‘letter of the law’. By correcting this law, World Rugby hope to retain the good character of our game.

That type of behavior now makes the offender(s) liable to a penalty. Expect referees to take a pragmatic stand on this, consulting their assistants and to clearly communicate what is unacceptable behavior but may show little leeway on egregious examples. Expect some big calls to be analysed and spoken of in many competitions in both hemispheres.

With player welfare at the heart of the process, a number of minor amendments will come into effect in 2016 while a package of closed law trials announced in September get underway – World Rugby.

Scrum– The single biggest area of change, and the biggest area of contention.

Firstly, in an effort to reduce the amount of downtime, teams will be required to be bound-up and ready within 30 seconds of the referee making the mark, with a free kick sanction if they are not. This will apply to both scrums, and you can imagine the first team holding the ball who infringe–what reaction they might receive from their team management.

Secondly, once in the bind position, front-rowers will need to be aligned and interlocked ear-to-ear which might not sound like a big change, but this improvement should give greater stability post-set. It attempts to put an end to the gamesmanship of players lining up directly head-on and forcing their opponent to set on an angle.

Once set and the ball is fed, teams will be given the opportunity to get the push on. If they can’t and the ball is at the No 8’s feet, they will be instructed to “Use It” by the referee. The thinking here being again is to get the ball into play more. Halfbacks are affected too, and the one from the team that doesn’t win the ball can’t access the area of space behind the flanker and next to the No 8 anymore, where most simply make a nuisance of themselves [not all of course]. This policy should lead to cleaner ball from this set piece and expect to see some leading players be warned not to interfere as much as we see in some games.

The biggest change though is that when a scrum wheels through 90 degrees, the feed no longer changes hands. The impact of this is that teams will have to disrupt their opponents through power and driving straight rather than wheeling the scrum. And from a refereeing perspective, takes away the some of the lottery of whether a wheeled scrum was intentional or not. This should lead to less movement, although the players are directly involved in this act of the game, so time will tell.

Replacements– A small change has also been made to the replacement laws. Teams will no longer lose a substitution or replacement when a player is forced from the game where the match officials consider the injury was suffered as a result of ‘foul play’. This means that in those circumstances teams can opt to return a player who has already been subbed-off back into the game.

Previously, they would have had to use another player who may not normally play that position; unless that injured player was a front rower.  This also redresses the disparity that a player can be temporarily replaced for blood or to undergo a concussion check, but not where foul play is the reason for the players departure.

Read more on this link from World Rugby.


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